Group B in our survey: The Underappreciated
Subtype #1: The unrewarded but talented worker surrounded by users:This is the most common type of hero (so broad that it includes both the Man with No Name and C.C. Baxter!), because this is one of the most common emotions in the world. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in the world who does not feel that they deserve more credit for what they do.
This is also a great way to draw sympathy to someone who is otherwise a terrible human being. For both Tony Soprano and Walter White (of “Breaking Bad”) we eventually come to find their wives to be more sympathetic than them, but that’s not true in the pilots, where both wives come off as contemptuous users: In the “Sopranos” pilot, Carmela tells Tony that he’s going to hell as he’s sucked into a CAT scan, and in the “Breaking Bad” pilot, Sky gives Walt the world’s most contemptuous handjob for his birthday.
First they have to get us on the hero’s side, so they exaggerate the negative qualities of the people around the hero. Only after we’re committed to the show do they start to allow us to sympathize with people other than the hero.
- Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter in The Apartment
- Clint Eastwood in the “Man with no Name” trilogy
- Zero Mostel in The Producers
- Robert Redford as Dave Chappellet in Downhill Racer
- Dennis Christopher as Dave in Breaking Away
- Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon (also showed up in “drolly sarcastic, surrounded by the gung ho)
- Mark Wahlberg as Mickey Ward in The Fighter
- Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad” (when he was a high school teacher)
- Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in The French Connection (will show up again)
- Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs (will show up again)
- James Gandolfini in “The Sopranos” (will show up again)
- Jon Hamm in “Mad Men” (will show up again)
- Steve Carrell as Andy in 40 Year Old Virgin (will show up again)
- Ed Helms in Cedar Rapids (will show up again)
Subtype #2: The ethical one, surrounded by cheaters: If everybody is following the rules, then there’s nothing heroic about it, but there’s something quixotically noble about following a set of rules even though no one else is.
- Robert Blake in Electra Glide in Blue
- Randolph Scott in Ride Lonesome
- Steve Wiebe in King of Kong
- Jon Favreau in Swingers
- Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life (But this is an interesting case, because he’s not really surrounded by cheaters. There are really just a few cheaters and a lot of people who won’t stand up to them. This character also showed up in the “drolly sarcastic” category and will show a third time.)
Subtype #3: The innocent surrounded by cynics: This one is similar to a category we’ll see later: The Optimist Surrounded by Duds. The only difference, really, is in the the nature of the opposition they face.
- Jean Arthur in Easy Living
- Sandro Panseri in Il Posto
- Beau Bridges in The Landlord
- Gene Wilder in The Producers
- Steve Carrell in 40 Year Old Virgin
- Ed Helms in Cedar Rapids (could go in the above category as well)